Preventing Waste in the Oceans

Lauren Miller, Writer

Every minute, the equivalent of a garbage truck of plastic enters the ocean. This equates to between 4.8 and 12.7 million tons a year. This is an enormous amount of plastic that all sorts of animals are forced to wade through every day. While we might live far away from the ocean, its health has an important role to play in our lives. For me, the ocean has played a large role in my life because of my twin sister Natalie, who spends her time studying sea creatures and the environment they live in. Her dreams of becoming a marine biologist have shown me the importance of this area. We are obligated to devote more attention to ocean conservation, as our fragile ecosystem will soon die without change.

The ocean and other ecosystems have been neglected for several years, despite efforts to keep the environment in check. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, plastic is capable of traveling thousands of miles on ocean currents. In time, this plastic will break down into smaller pieces that are often ingested by animals. An example is in beached whales, having up to 6 square meters of plastic in their guts. Some birds have eaten up to 15 percent of their entire body weight. To put this in perspective, that’s the same as a human eating 20 whole pizzas. At our current stage of ocean waste, 90 percent of all seabirds have ingested plastic. These plastics have put more than 700 species at risk. Each year, more than a million marine animals are killed by plastic. According to Marine, an area of the Pacific Ocean is overflowing with plastic and trash. This area, discovered by Captain Charles Moore (of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation) has been dubbed “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” All sorts of familiar trash such as cans, bottles, & plastic bags can be found in this area.

A fundamental reason why the ocean is so important is because it produces more oxygen then all the forests combined, due to phytoplankton (single-celled plants found in the ocean). In addition, over 3 billion people rely on seafood as their main force of nutrition. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the ocean covers 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, transporting heat from the equator to the poles to regulate our climate and weather patterns. Despite this, the ocean has impacted all of us in other ways. There are numerous opportunities that this landscape presents, including whale watching, scuba diving, and cruises. While these are not essential activities, places like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch are already loaded with trash and so these are no longer  available in this area.

Looking economically, the U.S. ocean economy produces 282 billion dollars in goods & services. Ocean-dependant businesses employ approximately three million people who do a variety of jobs. If the pollution continues at its current rate, unemployment will sweep the coasts. According to Ocean Today, a lot of people also don’t realize the medicinal benefits that the ocean provides, as there are many ingredients found in corals and sponges that help fight cancer, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, and heart disease. However, due to the excessive waste being dumped in the oceans, many of these ingredients are no longer around.

Here in Kansas, we often don’t give thought to how our actions affect the oceans. However, there are some basic things we can do to help the ocean’s health. According to National, there are many ocean conservation organizations–the Environmental Defense Fund, 4 Ocean, & Sea Shepherd–to name a few. However, these organizations are unable to make a firm impact without the continued efforts of others and their donations. There are a few basic things we can do right here in Kansas to help reduce waste in the oceans. The first is to mind your carbon footprint and reduce energy usage. This can help to reduce the pollution leading to climate change. Reducing our carbon footprint could be doing so much as taking the stairs instead of the elevator. To limit your impact, carrying a reusable water bottle is helpful as well as storing food in non-disposable containers & bringing your own reusable bag when shopping. Recycling is important when possible, and many teachers around the school have designated bins to use.

We must consider the world we live in when going about our everyday lives. As I’ve said, living in Kansas, we often don’t consider an area so far away. However, if the whole ocean looked like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, we would no longer have a gorgeous landscape to explore. The ocean is like the rolling plains of Kansas. It seems endless, but there are dangers at every turn that we must protect. Without course-correction, we will no longer get to experience the atmosphere of this exquisite place.